PRIVATE nursery providers in the Borders fear their viability is being threatened by increased business rates.

And they are backing a national campaign to have these rates either frozen at 2016 levels or abolished altogether.

Fifteen of the 20 private nurseries and childcare centres which receive non-domestic rates bills from Scottish Borders Council saw their rateable values (RVs) increase on April 1 this year.

The average RV hike as a result of the revaluation has been 20 per cent, with one facing a 44 per cent rise. The data is included in a council submission sent last week to the Scottish Parliament’s petitions committee.

The cross-party group of MSPs is considering a petition from Stephanie Dodds, owner of the Peartree Nursery in Haddington, East Lothian, who is regional network chair of the National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA).

Mrs Dodds wants the Scottish Parliament to “urge the Scottish Government to abolish or freeze business rates for nurseries”.

She adds: “High quality childcare makes a significant impact in narrowing gaps for the most disadvantaged children and giving all children the best start in life. Childcare provision is also an essential ingredient for economic growth, supporting parents to work and take up training. A key issue for nurseries, like all small businesses, is balancing our books…while remaining sustainable and keeping fees affordable for parents.”

Mrs Dodds highlights the Scottish Government’s commitment to double the annual hours of early years provision – from 800 to 1,140 – in 2020, adding: “So we are really disappointed the private sector nurseries have been hit with substantial increases in rates when we have been fighting alongside the NDNA to have rates for nurseries abolished – not substantially increased.”

In its submission to the committee, SBC says there are “no current pressures” on nursery places in the Borders, but acknowledges: “Private nursery providers have raised concerns regarding increases [in business rates] and this may impact on the future viability of these providers.”

The council said these concerns were in the context of other cost pressures faced by providers, including paying the living wage, currently £8.45 per hour, and meeting new requirements around pensions.

And it admits that if two large local providers felt their businesses were not profitable “then there would be pressure on nursery places locally”.

The council said that while most Borders nurseries are still eligible for small business rates relief, seven have seen “an increase in their liability” as a result of the revaluation with one business facing a net annual liability increase of £3,312.

In a statement to the committee, the Newtown-based Scottish Borders Assessor, which sets RVs in the region, states: “Ultimately, the RVs of day nurseries in the Borders are aligned to similar properties that are let. For example, a nursery may occupy an industrial type building or a property with the characteristics of an office or shop.

“Therefore, the RV is based on levels of rental value prevailing in the locality for that type of property.”

Any business wishing to challenge its new RV can lodge an appeal with the Assessor by September 30.